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Nip/Tuck's Dicey Operations

Hot threesome action, breast implants gone awry, and jokes about the morbidly obese are all part of the Sept. 20 premiere of FX’s controversial drama Nip/Tuck. Yes, the show’s third season will be racy as ever. Pushing the envelope with its edgy content, Nip has scared off advertisers in many segments. Yet that content—not to mention an attractive demographic—has attracted others, notably those in the beer, electronics and automotive categories.

Nip/Tuck will continue to push the content boundaries, and yet it’s the same forward and challenging content that is attractive to harder-to-reach demographics,” says John Rash, senior VP/director of broadcast operations for Campbell Mithun. “It will continue to have some marketers’ support.”

Not all advertisers share his view. Last season, companies like Cingular Wireless, Gateway and Ben & Jerry’s pulled ads following protests from a TV watchdog group. But this year, Sony Pictures forked over big bucks to buy 11 minutes of commercial time as the exclusive sponsor of the 90-minute premiere. Neither Sony nor FX would comment on the deal, but ad buyers put it in the millions.

Even with its attractive demo, critical acclaim (the show won a 2005 Golden Globe for Best Drama) and strong ratings (it was basic cable’s top-rated series with adults 18-49 last year and averaged a 3.2 household rating and 2.6 million viewers in the demo), Nip/Tuck commands a lower cost per thousand (CPM) than a less edgy cable hit might, according to buyers. One estimates its CPM to be a few dollars below broadcast prime but nonetheless higher than most basic-cable hits.

“I wouldn’t say they’re getting super-premium rates,” says a second buyer. “It’s probably moderately priced in comparison to other premium cable properties—not much more than double what advertisers would pay for other shows on FX.”

That doesn’t bode well at a time when other cable networks are besting even some broadcast ratings with originals that don’t feature three-way sex and botched boob jobs, such as TNT hit The Closer.

“[Nip/Tuck] is a good promotional base for the network, but it’s an expensive show, and they’re not getting to maximize their financial potential,” says a senior-level executive at another cable network.

Yet, for advertisers like Sony Pictures, Nip’s demo is enough to look past the hard-to-stomach content. And with FX’s advertising bread and butter coming from acquired blockbuster movies, there is less pressure on the series to bring in big ad dollars.

Some on the advertising end agree that the show has nothing to worry about.

“Considering there are over 1,000 brands that advertise, a dozen or so [that object] isn’t that much,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP/director of research for Horizon Media. “The television environment hasn’t changed that much in the last couple years to warrant FX changing its decision about what the show’s about because a handful of advertisers might pull out.”

Last week, the Parents Television Council circulated a letter to Sony Chairman/CEO Howard Stringer objecting to the company’s sponsorship.

“They’re choosing to identify their corporate brand with everything associated in the program,” says PTC Director of Research and Publications Melissa Caldwell. “They’re communicating a message about what their corporate values are.”

Caldwell went on to call the sponsorship “a marriage made in hell.”